Redefining Social BusinessLast time in the first article of this mini-series I argued that despite all the media attention, the market growth, the huge investment by companies like Microsoft, and the almost hysterical claims by some "experts," there’s a problem with "social" -- there’s no clear definition, no one can clearly articulate how it works and there’s little reliable evidence that it actually delivers any business value. In this article I am going to address the first of these issues and offer a (new) definition for "social."

Web 2.0 to Enterprise 2.0

From the outset the ethos at the heart of this phenomenon has been the use of technology to facilitate interaction between people, and a precise definition has been elusive. In 1999 an article in the magazine Print coined the phrase, "Web 2.0," and predicted that,

…The Web, as we know it now is a fleeting thing. Web 1.0. …Today’s Web is essentially a prototype -- a proof of concept…. The first glimmerings of Web 2.0 are beginning to appear… The Web will not be understood as screenfuls of text and graphics but as a transport mechanism, the ether through which interactivity happens” (DiNucci, 1999)

The term Web 2.0 was popularized by a conference of the same name which was organized by Tim O’Reilly and Web pioneer Dale Dougherty in 2004 at which prominent thinkers of the web community were invited to discuss interactive web applications (MacNamara, 2009). Reflecting on that conference in a 2005 web article Tim O’Reilly notes,

There’s still a huge amount of disagreement about just what Web 2.0 means, with some people decrying it as a meaningless marketing buzzword, and others accepting it as the new conventional wisdom … Like many important concepts, Web 2.0 doesn't have a hard boundary” (O'Reilly, 2005)

The earliest significant academic reference to the term "Web 2.0" found in a search of the EBSCO Business Source Complete database which contains over 1600 full text peer reviewed journals is Andrew McAfee’s 2006 article, "Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration.” That paper discusses the use of Web 2.0 technologies by knowledge workers within organizations, a phenomenon which he calls, “Enterprise 2.0.”

McAfee proposes a framework to define the components of Enterprise 2.0 technologies which he refers to using the acronym SLATES. Table 1 summarizes the SLATES framework.

Table 1: The SLATES framework describing the characteristics of Web 2.0 technologies


McAfee defines "Web 2.0" as a set of technologies with certain characteristics, and he uses "Enterprise 2.0" to refer to the use of those technologies by knowledge workers within organizations. In both cases the central theme of the concept is technology. Since McAfee’s paper, scholars have used a number of synonyms for "Web 2.0" and "Enterprise 2.0." von Krogh (2012) writes,

Social software, also known as Web 2.0 or Enterprise 2.0, is software that supports group interaction towards establishing communities and creating and exchanging content”

Haefliger et al. (2011) agrees and writes,

… Social software, frequently annotated with Web 2.0 or Enterprise 2.0”

Quy and Shipilov (2012) refer to, “Social media (a.k.a. Enterprise 2.0) tools,” but according to Merchant (2013), the term "Social media," was originally coined to describe the influence of bloggers in shaping product adoption in contrast to the influence of traditional mass media. "Social Media" refers to the use of publically available Web 2.0 tools in a marketing context and so is subtly different from "Enterprise 2.0," which as we have seen refers to the use of proprietary Web 2.0 platforms by knowledge workers within an organization. The same underlying technologies but different tools and a different use case.

More than Technology

Although McAfee defines Enterprise 2.0 in terms of technology, he highlights associated issues relating to leadership, culture, power and organization structure. He notes that the adoption and use of the technologies by knowledge workers within an organization is not automatic and that it depends greatly on decisions and actions made by managers and he highlights four specific areas for consideration.